contributing to projects in the enterprise

Posted by anton
on Sunday, November 25, 2007

i really like this idea of starlets grouplets (as used by googlers) – informal gatherings of people interested in the same topic and willing to dedicate their 20% “extra-curriculum” time to it.

they do not necessarily come from the same team (in fact most of them do not), but they come to work on something together. for some of them it might even become their “main” project.

there are probably half a dozen (at least) small-ish projects at work that i would like to hack on – from an api to a commonly used tool to some improvements to existing tools. this is the stuff that has been created and is maintained by other groups elsewhere, but i have the energy, the ideas, and the expertise to contribute.

the unfortunate thing is that right now it is pretty much impossible (at least with the projects i am interested in). it is not necessarily the direct managerial support – although it would make it easier. i think for motivated people this support does not matter as much – most of the stuff like that i’ve done on my own time as a skunkworks project.

i think the biggest roadblock in my case is the internal culture – people just do not think this way. their first reaction is suspicion and thinly veiled irritation. i understand that this is probably the result of many incompetent people bombarding them with impatient requests, but wouldn’t it be nice, if i simply could check out some code, tinker with it, and then submit a patch? and have someone answer my question or two? it would immediately help some of my daily activities, and benefit others. sort of like the way open source projects are – scratch my own itch and help others in the process.

perhaps, one of the first steps is to make it easier – open up source control, do not require one to chew through the permissions/requests muck to get access to code/environments, start an area on an internal forum (you got one, right?) and an area in an internal wiki (you got one, right?).

most of it will benefit you, but also allow others to come in and contribute. in fact, most of the stuff that can be done is simply a copy of best practices by open source projects.

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